Church leaders disappointed with change to BBC Songs of Praise time slot

Songs of Praise has broadcast on Sundays since 1961BBC/Emilie Sandy

The BBC's decision to move 'Songs of Praise' to Sunday lunchtime has disappointed Church leaders. 

The Church of England was asked by Dr Chris Angus during Synod this week whether it had challenged the BBC over changing the time of its only regular religious programme from late afternoons on Sunday to much earlier in the day. 

Dr Angus, lay chair of the Diocese of Carlisle, said the programme had effectively been 'marginalised' by the BBC. 

In a written answer, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said the Church of England's communications office had been in direct contact with the BBC regarding the scheduling of 'Songs of Praise' and that it had been informed that the change was down to concerns over a conflict with sporting programmes.

'The BBC have informed them that the new scheduling time has been introduced in order to ensure that the programme holds a consistent place in the schedule after the lunchtime news and is not dislodged by the over-running of any sporting events being broadcast later in the day,' he said.

'The BBC have also stated that scheduling "Songs of Praise" after the lunchtime news ensures a consistent audience share and allows the programme to be available via iPlayer for a longer period on the Sunday.' 

The move has given rise to concerns that the change will lead to a fall in viewers and the eventual cancellation of the show. 

Caroline Hobbs, who has launched a petition to return the show to its original time, told the Daily Mail: 'For the housebound and those in care homes, like my mother, this is their only access to Sunday worship. They are unable to record it or use iPlayer.

'By moving it to a time when they will be having lunch they are deprived of a much-loved programme. This will also mean that viewing figures will drop, which may lead to it being axed permanently.'

She added: 'This is the only Christian programme still shown regularly on TV and although viewers may be in a minority, they still have a right to enjoy it.'

Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, told the Belfast Telegraph it was important that broacasters like the BBC provide good quality faith-based programming.

'It is estimated that 400,000 people regularly attend church in Northern Ireland, which is about a quarter of the population. Given this fact, there is room for both quantity and, more importantly, quality of coverage,' he said.

'I believe that moving Songs of Praise to a lunchtime slot is a small sign that the broadcasters do not get this.'